Texas LGBT Caucus Chair Mary Gonzalez, center, introduces caucus members and their goals. (Screen shot)


UPDATE: Samantha Smoot, interim executive director of Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy and lobbying organization, on Wednesday morning issued a statement congratulating the new Texas LGBT Caucus in the state House. Smooth said:

Last week we shared new poll data which shows that, for the first time, equality has majority support across all groups in Texas.  Every region, every ethnicity, and every religious group — and that includes white evangelicals — now support laws to protect their LGBTQ neighbors from discrimination.  Indeed, Texas is at a turning point for equality.

“But we didn’t need a poll to tell us what the voters already said.  By electing five openly-LGBTQ representatives, Texans have affirmed that equality is a mainstream Texas value.

“This caucus has already made an impact — by sending a message to members of the LGBTQ community — that you are represented.  You matter.  You have a voice. To those who would persecute and marginalize LGBTQ people for being different — the very existence of this caucus sends a message:  you will not succeed in dehumanizing our community for your political gain.

“This caucus will lead the fight against measures to write discrimination into our state’s laws.  But there’s much more. We can look to the LGBT Caucus to advance the proactive push for real equality — for comprehensive, non-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ Texans. It is shocking to realize that, in 2019, our state laws prohibiting unfair discrimination still don’t include LGBTQ Texans. Updating our laws to help end unfair discrimination is long overdue.

“There is no more powerful voice in Texas than this caucus, who can say that no one should have to worry about being fired from a job, evicted from an apartment or turned away at the corner store because of who you are or who you love.

“Equality Texas celebrates the formation of the LGBT Caucus; we applaud the impact you have already made, and we look forward to the changes you will make to improve the lives of LGBTQ Texans.”

Equality Texas is the largest statewide organization working to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Texans through political action, education, community organizing, and collaboration. The Equality Texas Foundation works to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Texans through education, community organizing, and collaboration.

The newly-formed Texas LGBT Caucus in Texas House of Representatives held its first press conference this morning (Tuesday, Feb. 5). Chair Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, announced that in addition to the five LGBT representatives, the new caucus has 16 additional members.

Gonzalez explained the reason for the caucus, saying, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

She said that last session, LGBT lawmakers and their allies fought off 20 anti-LGBT bills. This session, only two have been filed.

Glen Maxey, who became the first openly gay member of the Texas House when he was elected in 1991, also attended the press conference.

Vice Chair Jessica Gonzalez, D-Dallas, said there has been a spike in hate crimes and a skyrocketing rate of murders of transgender women that needs to be addressed. She also said conditions in prisons and services available upon release need attention.

Rep. Erin Zwiener, D- Hays County, talked about being safe at work when out. She referred to the case of a teacher in Mansfield who was put on administrative leave for a school year because she showed a picture of her family to her class. She said 21 other states enacted — and the Texas business community — has asked for employment protections.

Rep Julie Johnson, D-Farmers Branch, chose to highlight the issue of housing nondiscrimination. “Far too many people apply for an apartment, put their spouse on the application and are denied,” she said.

She mentioned a bill she’s supporting, filed by Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, that would prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Every person deserves a safe place to sleep,” Johnson said.

Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, mentioned her lifelong friendship with Maxey. “He gave birth to a bunch of us,” she said.

Because of terrible traffic problems in Austin, Israel has spent much of her time in the Legislature working on transportation issues. She said she’s like to be known as a “transportation chick” but also as a role model.

“I want 9-year-old Celia to know you can do whatever you want to do and you can run for office,” she said, adding that she has hope for this session accomplishing more than the last one.

“Hopefully we’re beyond the hatred and discrimination of last session,” Israel said.

As a member of the LGBT Caucus, Israel said, she wants to highlight suicide prevention efforts. As part of that campaign, she filed a bill to make the practice of conversion therapy on minors illegal.

Equality Texas interim Executive Director Samantha Smoot spoke about its new poll that showed for the first time majority support for equality across the state in every group, even among Evangelicals.

She said the importance of the caucus to young people is the message it sends: “You’re represented. You matter.”

— David Taffet